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HISD employees travel to state...

HISD employees travel to state capitol to protest forthcoming takeover

As the Texas Education Agency prepares to take over the Houston Independent School District, district employees traveled to the Texas State Capitol in Austin on Monday, March 13, to voice their opposition to the state takeover. Local Houston groups including the Houston Education Support Personnel and the Houston Federation of Teachers joined their peers at the Texas AFT and Texas AFL-CIO in protesting for Public Education Advocacy Day. 

“We want y’all to support us to stop the state from taking over HISD because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Houston Educational Support Personnel Denetris Jones said in a Facebook Live Monday morning. 

Workers are set to speak to state lawmakers about a campaign called “Respect us or Expect us,” aimed to address their needs and improve the public education system for them and Texas students.

Some legislative properties in the campaign include additional funding for public schools, shifting to enrollment-based financing of schools, a $10,000 pay raise for teachers, a 15-percent pay increase for staff, creating class size limits, halting charter school expansion, increasing per-student spending, gun reform legislation, and ending what they believe to be is an emphasis on state standardized testing (STAAR) among other objectives, according to the Texas AFT website.

In addition to meetings with lawmakers, Texas education workers will protest outside the Texas AFL-CIO building Monday afternoon. 

The Education Advocacy Day comes at the same time state leaders such as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov Dan Patrick have expressed support for funding private school vouchers as a legislative priority. Abbott, for one, just finished a private and charter school tour across the state. 

Legislation supporting this push toward charter schools includes Senate Bill 8, which would give Texas parents $8,000 in taxpayer money to send their children to private school. Parents could use the money by creating an educational savings account through the state. According to Texas Tribune reporter Robert Downen, if passed, the legislation wouldn’t include smaller school districts with a student population less than 20,000. 

Houston-area representative Ron Reynolds confirmed last week that a state takeover over of Houston Independent School District is “imminent,” citing a recent conversation with Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath. Reynolds said Morath plans to speak with Houston-area lawmakers before officially announcing the state’s intervention plans. 

“Once they meet with us, they would be likely sending a letter to HISD announcing the takeover, and then they will get input in terms of who should be on the board of managers to oversee the district,” Reynolds said in an interview with FOX 26 reporter Isiah Carey.

Since Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner broke the news on the incoming takeover on March 1, the exact timeline of events regarding the forthcoming action remains unclear.

According to TEA guidelines, its leadership has a number of options for acting in the district. One option is appointing state officials to trustee positions on the HISD school board and removing district superintendent Millard House II from his role. Reynolds told Carey that this is the likely outcome for HISD, which could retain its current board members as powerless “figureheads” after the state’s intervention.

HISD Board of Trustees voted to drop their lawsuit against the state on Thursday and said they were looking forward to working with all parties. 

On Saturday, HISD parents, students, educators, community members, and local officials held a protest against the proposed takeover in front of Wheatley High School, the school campus known for triggering the takeover after several years of poor accountability ratings. Since then recording five consecutive years of failing accountability marks in 2019, the school campus has improved its state ratings. In 2022, HISD as a whole earned a B rating for accountability as a district and Wheatley High School was marked a C-rated campus.